The pervasive world of New York apartment hunting

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Adi Talwar

The Lower Manhattan skyline as seen from Governor’s Island.

Refine your LinkedIn profile, embellish your CV and overnight this university transcript. Time to ask… for an apartment in New York?

Homeowners and brokers are notorious for asking for some pretty odd materials from applicants in the hot pot of local real estate. But that doesn’t mean the requests are normal or legal.

A Tweeter by poet Saeed Jones recently sparked a wave of responses from tenants recalling the strangest and most intrusive demands they have encountered in their housing searches.

“A friend of mine is applying for an apartment in Brooklyn and a landlord submitted her and her boyfriend,… And LinkedIn ???? And they might have to write essays to explain their credit scores ??? ? Jones wrote on June 24.

Respondents responded on Twitter to share their own questionable encounters, such as the management company who requested a photo of a small child and the owner who requested a candidate’s transcript. A man said he lost an apartment because the owner preferred a rival’s job at Google.

City Limits spoke to several tenants about their weirdest landlord demands and spoke with three housing attorneys to determine which demands were legal, which were bizarre (hint: all) and which were both.

LinkedIn and social networks

It sounds really weird – this is an apartment search, not a job interview – but asking for someone’s LinkedIn profile is probably legal as it relates to employment, says lawyer Sam Himmelstein tenant and partner of the law firm Himmelstein McConnell.

“I’ve never seen this before, but I think you can ask anything related to employment, financial status and solvency,” says Himmelstein. “It’s not illegal, but it’s a bit wacky.”

Still, the owner could be breaking the law if one of the requests is a power of attorney for other forms of bias. New York City human rights law prohibits discrimination against 14 protected classes, including legal occupation and legal source of income.

“Where an owner gets into trouble is if the question seems designed to possibly discriminate against someone on the basis of legally protected categories, such as race, age, sex, marital status, origin national, sexual preference, ”he said.

LinkedIn is just the tip of the iceberg, says Himmelstein. Landlords review various social media platforms when selecting tenants, even if this leads to some wrong or possibly illegal assumptions.

“It’s very Big Brotheresque. It’s not enough to find a tenant willing to rent your apartment and pay the rent, but you have to investigate every part of that person’s past to find out what kind of tenant you think they are. would be in the future? ”adds Ellen Davidson, a lawyer in the Civil Unit of the Legal Aid Society.

And Steve Wagner, partner at Wagner, Berkow & Brandt, says this research, while common, reveals little about a person’s ability to pay rent.

“I suspect that landlords won’t be able to predict what type of tenant someone will be by doing this invasive research,” says Wagner.

A photo of a child (seriously)

Sometimes the application requirements are just scary – and possibly racist. Take this example: “For an apartment in Williamsburg, we had to submit a photo… of our child… he was five years old…” tweeted Brooklyn resident Toyin Onabanjo-Edge in response to Jones.

Onabanjo-Edge showed City Limits the emails in which agents from the Corcoran Group requested their son’s photo.

“Can you send me another most recent bank statement along with proof of cash or a savings account statement,” the agent wrote. “Please also send a passport or ID / photo of your little one. What’s her name?”

Onabanjo-Edge said the request looked suspicious, but, as a North Carolina native, she wasn’t sure if that was out of the ordinary in New York City.

“My first thought as a black person was that they would probably make sure that we were both white, or that one of us was white or that we had some financial status so that we were like ‘OK ” [of tenant], ‘”she said.” Then I thought maybe they were wondering if we were trying to impersonate a kid as a roommate, but anyway, it didn’t matter because it was one two bedrooms. “

She said she and her family had since moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant and were never asked to submit a photo again.

“It was really weird,” she said. “We were like maybe this is how they do it in New York… or maybe this is how they do it in Williamsburg.”

The Corcoran group declined to comment for this article.

Either way, requesting a photo could be illegal under New York City’s Fair Housing Laws, which specifically prohibit discrimination based on race, color, age, and other characteristics. that might be evident in a photo.

the city ​​website advises tenants and landlords that “requiring photo with application” is possible evidence of housing discrimination.

“An applicant may be asked to provide government-issued identification, but this requirement should be applied consistently to all applicants and should not be limited to a particular form of identification (for example, a permit to drive) “, says the city guide.

In situations like this, New York City Commission on Human Rights advises apartment seekers to contact them to investigate the request. To reach the commission, dial 311 or (212) 416-0197.

Davidson, the legal aid lawyer, was incredulous when she learned of the photo request.

“A photo of a child. Why would that be? she said. “It’s really strange.”

After Himmelstein learned of the photo request, he spoke to his colleagues and received a common response: “A, we thought the request was very strange,” he said. “And some of us felt that this could be the basis of a complaint of discrimination based on the child’s race or ethnicity… if the owner refused them.”

A college transcript

Williamsburg resident Michael G. responded to Jones’ tweet with his own unusual application requirement: An owner told him to submit a letter of recommendation from his small liberal arts college proving he was a good resident of dormitory.

Michael told City Limits that he graduated from college last year and set out to find his very first apartment in September 2020. A building owner asked previous owners for references, but Michael did. said he had only lived with his parents and in college dorms.

“He said your school is your owner, so you need a letter from them, I thought that was a pretty strange request,” Michael said. The school said they were never asked for a referral for a dorm and turned it down. So the owner asked for his diploma and transcript, he said.

“It was more of an eye roll than a barrier to getting housing because I guess they thought the transcript and the diploma carried weight,” said Michael. “The owner sees my GPA, my high school AP test scores, a lot of information that I don’t think they need to see.”

He wondered if the owner would have rented to someone else who hadn’t graduated from college. And he asked not to use his last name in this story because he is looking for another apartment and is worried that his next owner will google it. They likely will, according to housing lawyers.

Wagner laughed when he heard about the owner’s college transcript request.

“It’s crazy, but there is no law against it. It just sounds ridiculous, ”he said.

An essay explaining a credit score

The idea of ​​a landlord asking for an essay to explain a credit score sparked various responses on Twitter: “Is the landlord’s secret dream to be a New York high school admissions officer?” ” a user responded.

The three lawyers interviewed for this story all called this specific request unusual, but again, not illegal. The owners routinely perform credit checks as part of the selection process and the StreetEasy brokerage site recommends that potential tenants explain their low credit rating in the front.

But a test?

“It’s weird,” Himmelstein said. “There are standards and owners have the right to ask questions about your finances and anything reasonably related to that is fair play.” In Wagner’s opinion, the same is true for a detailed bank statement with the individual purchases listed.

“It’s probably OK because it’s finances,” he said.

Then there are the apartment hunters who get a raw deal for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

Jackson Isaacson, a resident of SoHo, said he was beaten by another candidate who worked for Google because the owner liked that person’s job better. Himmelstein, the housing attorney, said it was probably not illegal, but it was demoralizing.

It also illustrates the types of hoops New Yorkers have to go through to prove they are entitled to an apartment – only to lose in the very end.

“The most disappointing thing about all the housing and renting experiences in New York City is how normalized these things are for us as residents,” Isaacson said.



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